A whirlwind of a game took place in Blacksburg on Thursday night with Carolina looking alternately like a pretty good football team and one that had barely seen a football. With a chance to put their boot on Virginia Tech's neck, the Heels turned the ball over inside the 5 and proceeded to go into hibernation for the next two quarters. When UNC woke up, it turned out to be too little, too late.
Once again, the numbers do not tell an accurate tale of the game. As effective as Hokie QB Logan Thomas was, accounting for all three of VT's touchdowns, he was actually held to under 200 yards passing. And the UNC defense held RB David Wilson under 100 yards for the first time in 7 games, as well as holding VT to under 400 yards of total offense for the first time in 6 games. In fact, UNC actually out-gained the Hokies in total yardage. At the end of the day, however, the only numbers that mattered were Carolina's 3rd loss this season by a touchdown or less and its fourth loss in five games.
With that in mind, here is this week's GBU report:
Dwight Jones: Jones had six catches for 105 yards, going over 1,000 yard for the season. For the first time in UNC history, the Heels have a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher in Gio Bernard.
Erik Highsmith: Highsmith had five catches for 90 yard, including a TD grab from Renner and another 64-yarder to set up a touchdown, and had his nickname of "Mookie" revealed to the ESPN-watching world.
Bryn Renner: It was nice to see good Bryn Renner (for the most part) finally show up on the road. Renner threw for 224 yards and a touchdown, but more important, made better decisions with the football
Penalties: Dumb penalties, unlucky penalties, phantom penalties - you name it, UNC had them Thursday night. Carolina only had six for 59 yards, but the ones they did have were crushing.
Injuries: For the second game in a row, UNC lost a key offensive component to a concussion, this time in the person of RB Gio Bernard.
Turnover: Yes, that is turnover, singular. UNC came into the game leading the ACC with 22 giveaways, but Ryan Houston's fumble inside the 5 changed the complexion of the game. Rather than UNC having a 14-0 lead, VT then ground out a 95-yard drive for a tying touchdown, which was a 14-point swing in a game decided by a field goal. Meanwhile, VT put the ball on the ground a number of times and UNC could not capitalize.
3rd down defense: The Hokies went 9-16 on 3rd down for the game, and UNC played behind the sticks for most of the game. It's easier to do better than 50% on 3rd down when most of your conversions are 3rd-and-5 or less.
Kicking game: All season long it has figured Carolina's kicking would cost them a game and this may have been the one. Granted, the wind was sharp on Thursday night, but Thomas Moore missed two field goals and while neither were chip shots, a good team has to have the ability to make a field goal inside of 40 yards. Punting into that wind was also difficult, but Thomas Hibbard had one punt go 28 yards and another 13 yards.
Officiating: Let me make this clear: OFFICIATING DID NOT COST UNC THE GAME. But Jiminy Christmas, there were about 3 or 4 head-scratching calls that went against the Tar Heels that were absolute momentum killers. I know all 12 fanbases in the ACC think Ron Cherry is giving their team the business, but wow.
Looking back, this was a game UNC certainly could have won with a complete effort. But there are no moral victories in college football and UNC will need to get it together and avoid a season-ending meltdown against Duke next Saturday, and head into the bowl season on a good note.